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The Avodah Blog

From the desk of the CEO: One year of COVID-19

I write this note sitting at my dining room table in Brooklyn, NY, with my children attending school via video in the next room. It’s unbelievable that it’s been a year since the pandemic hit.  My last time on a plane was visiting our Chicago site last February. I sat with our Corps Members at the Jane Adams Senior Caucus, hearing stories of organizing by and with seniors, I sat unmasked eating king cake (in honor of Mardi Gras) with Avodah supporters, Board and Advisory Council members.

Over the past year, we’ve all faced challenge and loss. I send love to each of you who has struggled through this year. I am finding hope in the first notes of spring – a small bud in my yard, a warm breeze, and watching the vaccination numbers rise with each passing week.  

I am also finding inspiration in the work of the Avodah Service Corps Members and our alumni.

The 23rd (!) Service Corps cohort is more than halfway through its year and continues to show up in incredible ways despite the challenges of the pandemic. You will see examples of their incredible work throughout this newsletter. Like our Chicago Corps Members, Danielle and Gabrielle, who serve at Broadway Youth Center and distribute essential supplies to homeless teens. Or our New Orleans cohort which started cooking 100 hot meals every other week for the unhoused through a collaboration with Southern Solidarity.  Or our New York Corps Members who are serving on a mobile health clinic – a retrofitted van that travels throughout neighborhoods that have less access to health clinics.

In our “In Their Own Words” video, you’ll see an inspiring conversation between Elizabeth Schmelzel, an attorney and Corps Member supervisor from CAIR Coalition (which supports asylum seekers) and Jordan, a Corps Member in D.C. In describing this work, Elizabeth said, “(Jordan is) sitting with someone who has never seen your face. Sitting with someone who has to tell you the worst thing that ever happened in their lives. And doing this in a foreign language. Jordan does all of that almost daily, with extraordinary grace, unending patience, an epic quality. Jordan is the type of person who understands the economic injustice, the racial injustice in our systems and yet is not overwhelmed by them. She has that in her head and can still do her work.” 

These are extraordinary words, and I’m not surprised to hear this. I hear comments like this from partner organizations about our Corps Members over and over. I am so proud.

This has not been a normal year for any of us. The Corps Members, like all of us, have lived under strict protocols. And as Elizabeth says above, we are seeing resilience, curiosity, and creativity emerge from these circumstances. These are traits that I believe will serve them and our communities long into the future. These are traits that will help them, as they step into leadership now and in the future. I have said all year that I want and hope that our Corps Members will look back at 2020 and 2021 and say, it was challenging to live through a pandemic and I’m so glad I did it as part of Avodah I’m so glad that I got to do work with purpose.  

And like our Corps Members, I hope you feel proud of your investment in Avodah. You are investing in a program with purpose. Thank you again for making our work possible.

With appreciation for your partnership,

Cheryl Cook, CEO

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